When Bob the weaver first appears in News from Nowhere he ‘rubbed his hands with glee’ at the prospect of getting some outdoor work in his friend Dick Hammond’s boat on the Thames. I’m suddenly reminded by this of a curious footnote in the Oxford World Classics edition of Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet. We witness Inspector Lestrade ‘rubbing his hands in a pompous and self-satisfied manner’, on which Owen Dudley Edwards, the editor, comments:
'p.31. rubbing his hands: a gesture one seldom sees nowadays, yet in this story Watson, Lestrade, Gregson all perform it, as do Holmes and various other characters elsewhere’.
Is it really the case that hardly anybody rubs their hands together in this kind of expressive manner any more? If so, when did the practice stop? How on earth would one go about dating the moment of its cessation? If it has indeed died out, what does it mean, culturally speaking, that this has happened? Do we, more generally, have any developed social history of physical gestures? And with News from Nowhere particularly in mind, do we not need a history of gesture in the genre of utopia itself, since the invention of a whole new social system will certainly have ultimately to include the invention of new bodily customs and movements too?